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January 14, 2009

Barack Rhymes With Tupac

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Noticeable, yet relatively underreported in the scandal-filled rhetoric that passes for meaningful political commentary these days, is the passing of an historic era that will occur when President George W. Bush takes off in the presidential helicopter after President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office next week.


Although much has been written about how Mr. Obama is so attractive, youthful and energetic, much of the press has failed to provide sustentative coverage of the width and depth of the intellectual and sociological sea change that is about to occur in the White House.


The presidency and the history of our nation may be categorized in many different ways. Some prefer to define historic eras according to war and peace. Others dwell on economics and prosperity.


For the immediate, as reinforced by a recent, well-written Associated Press article by Jocelyn Noveck: “To a number of social analysts, historians, bloggers and ordinary Americans, Jan. 20 will symbolize the passing of an entire generation: the baby boomer years.


“Generational change. A passing of the torch. The terms have been thrown around with frequency as the moment nears for Obama to take the oath of office. And yet the reference is not to Obama's relatively young age – at 47, he's only tied for fifth place on the youngest presidents list with Grover Cleveland.”


It was from a story that was totally unrelated to presidential politics in which it dawned on me that Barack rhymes with Tupac. For those not quickly understanding the seemingly perverse word association, I am referring to a discredited Los Angles Times article that ran March 17, 2008, in which the paper alleged that it had new information to put forth regarding the 1994 assault on the late rap star with a Baltimore connection, Tupac Shakur.


I digested the original story as another example of the lack of fact checking and tabloidization of the elite media, where rumor is repeated under the guise of meaningful journalism.


At the same time, the candidacy of Illinois Senator Obama was really beginning to gel. After shaking my head after reading “An Attack on Tupac Shakur Launched a Hip-Hop War,” written by Times staff writer Chuck Philips, I read some analysis of the Obama-phenomena which involved the age and cultural differences as represented by the opposing candidacies of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Arizona Sen. John McCain.


(I should note that recently, while doing some research for this column, I stumbled upon a column by Russell Moore in New America Media, in which he also noted the irony that “Barack rhymes with Tupac.”)


Whatever your sensibilities about Mr. Shakur, there is little critical doubt that he was a skilled orator and, at the time, the wordsmith in me was admiring the manner in which Mr. Obama could deliver his populist rhetoric. Not unlike that of a four-time presidential candidate from more than a hundred years ago, William Jennings Bryant.


The 1890’s witnessed a huge debate which raged over economic and monetary reform. Just like Mr. Obama, the populist-progressive movement which championed monetary reforms had its origins in the Midwest and its leader, Mr. Bryant, was a messianic charismatic leader who inspired a fevered and impassioned following.


Yes, this is the same 36-year-old Mr. Bryant who delivered the famous “Cross of Gold” speech at the 1896 Democratic National Convention: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”


Getting back to the history that will unfold next week, AP writer Ms. Noveck wryly calls to our attention that when Mr. Obama takes the oath of office it will signify the fact that “a cultural era is ending…


“[O]ne dominated by the boomers, many of whom came of age in the '60s and experienced the bitter divisions caused by the Vietnam War and the protests against it, the civil rights struggle, social change, sexual freedoms, and more.”


She goes on to observe: “Those experiences, the theory goes, led boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, to become deeply motivated by ideology and mired in decades-old conflicts. And Obama? He's an example of a new pragmatism: idealistic but realistic, post-partisan, unthreatened by dissent, eager and able to come up with new ways to solve problems.”


Ms. Noveck further notes: “It's been a while since historians spoke of generational change in Washington. Fully 16 years have passed since Bill Clinton, the first boomer president, took office. Before that, presidents from John F. Kennedy to George H.W. Bush – seven straight – were part of the World War II generation…”


Conservatives may be wise to continue to intellectually ponder their response to the ideological differences that will unfold with a new president who hails from a younger generation that is mentally hardwired very differently from those of us boomers.


A recent insightful Los Angeles Times article “Obama bumps up against egos in Congress” may be prophetic of what the future may hold.


Perhaps the most telling observation came from another youthful member of the Clinton administration, Dee Dee Myers, a White House press secretary: “I do see a culture clash… For a campaign that got kudos for being as well run as Obama's, they probably thought they were going to come to Washington and continue with that successful framework. In many ways they have. But there's also a lot of acclimating that's going on too.”


A New America Media article from August 29, 2008, observed: “In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Obama said he listens to (another rap star) Ludacris on his iPod.”


Yup! Many of us will need to get acclimated that this is indeed, not our father’s president.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:

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